Mugged By History In London

I was minding my own business, trying to enjoy some culture during my trip to London, when something punched┬áme in the face – violently attacking my intellect and jolting my sense of honesty.

"British Museum from NE 2" by Ham - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“British Museum from NE 2” by Ham – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

The attacker came at me in the supposedly refined British Museum in London, the UK’s national museum housing precious archaeological treasures. I was hoping to read something about my national history in the Near Eastern wing, as a Jew hailing from ancient Israel, when a sign entitled “The Levant” almost knocked me out of existence.

“The ancient Levant compromises modern Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Western Syria. The region was home to two great indigenous peoples – the Canaanites and the Amorites.”

Orit London British Museum levant

I guess the Hebrew Bible and archaeology documenting ancient Israel are not legitimate sources for the curators at the British Museum. To them, the people of Israel – the truly indigenous tribes and national people in the Levant for hundreds of years – to be exiled and returned – either didn’t exist, or the scholars did not find them worthy of the appellation of “great.” Perhaps the curators chose not to accurately portray ancient history so that it could justify re-writing modern history with the creation of “modern Palestine” – which is where on the map exactly? (And as a colleague pointed out, why does only “Palestine” deserve the appellation of “modern”?)

If my intellect weren’t black and blue enough, here comes another punch in the form of the inventors of the “alphabet” – the Canaanites, who the curators are probably setting up as the progenitors of modern “Palestine” – a name, in fact, given by the Romans to the geographic area after they violently kicked the Jews off the land of Israel.

Orit London British Museum alphabet

While the alphabet is largely seen, according to a cursory Google search, as invented by a Semitic people (which one exactly is the subject of debate), I seem to recall that the first full-fledged texts written in alphabet form and surviving from the Iron Age make up today’s Hebrew Bible. Even the example the British Museum offers, “Ras”, is the root of “rosh” – “head” in Hebrew. But no, Hebrew – like ancient Israel – is not even worth a mention.

In fact, the Israelites played a central role in utilizing an alphabetic system to encourage the masses toward education, as Joshua Berman, in Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought (Oxford University Press) posits: “…the alphabetic script in which the Bible was written lent itself to the task of disseminating God’s word more readily than would have been possible with texts produced in a culture founded on cuneiform…Because of the relative simplicity of the alphabet, the gap between the fully literate and those with a vulgar level of literacy would, perforce, have been narrowed, thus facilitating the transmission of the biblical texts broadly across the populace in the oral-written matrix described later.”

But, to its credit, the British Museum sought to give me a salve, in a dark corner, a band-aid sign to make me feel that my people (who were apparently “Canaanite pastoralists” – whatever that is) existed – some place, some where, as some poor, pathetic, scattered people. The description is so scant, lazy and poorly-written that I can hardly make sense of it. Apparently, the Israelites did not have their own united kingdom under David and Solomon in their own land. I’m not exactly sure whom the curators are talking about when they write:

“The first record referring to Judah occurs, in fact only in the reign of Tiglath Pileser III (745-727 BC), when a king of Jerusalem, Ahaz, appealed to the Assyrians for help against his neighbors.”

Orit London British Museum israeljudah

Which brings up the questions: Why is the British Museum rewriting history, deleting Jewish national presence from the Land of Israel? What sources do they consult for their information? And why would they so blatantly twist history and fact?

Are board members pro-Palestinian activists? Was this the request of the Sackler family, the (Jewish?) benefactors of the Ancient Near East wing? Or has academia been so infested by anti-Israel and anti-Jewish revisionists that the scholars made innocent mistakes based on the textbooks out there?

Whatever the reason, this exhibition was a huge disappointment and a stain on my trip to London, an insanely expensive city that I can’t help but feel is losing its direction and status as a happening, bright, smart metropolis that could inspire and educate so many people towards truth and honest creativity, as it may have done, once upon a time.


Orit Arfa

Orit Arfa is a is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Visit her website:

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